Bro. J. Filardo, P.´.M.´.
Scotland has given the world more than good usquebaugh and uilleann music. It has given us Freemasonry…
And as early as 1250, the first Grand Lodge of Freemasons was established in Köln, Germany. But these were builders, like companies employed by the Catholic Church and the Crowned heads of the time.
However, we are, in fact, talking about the institution that we know today as Freemasonry.
Ultimately, everything boils down to Politics and Religion.
In order to establish a starting point, let us begin with St. Pádraig who was responsible for the evangelisation of Ireland in the fifth century. Later, in the sixth century, the Irish colonized what is today known as Scotland.
There were already Christians in Scotland thanks to St. Columba, and the Catholic Church took hold of the country until the 16th century when the Church in Scotland broke with the papacy and adopted a Calvinist confession. Some Scottish lairds remained Roman Catholic, but Scotland was then largely a Protestant state.
We cannot forget, as well, that in that same century, Henry VIII had also rejected the papal authority and initiated the English Reformation.
Other elements that will mix in the cauldron of History are Alchemy and the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis.
A curious reference is the presence in Shakespeare’s Hamlet of two characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whose names sound pretty much like Rosecroix and Guildenstern as the word guild as its root. William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy between 1599 and 1602. It is a fact that the Rosicrucian manifesto was only published in 1614 and in Germany, but the body of knowledge that informs the manifesto is closely linked to the Tradition, and it is licit to think that the movement existed already long before the publication of the Manifesto. We should consider as well, that Shakespeare was well ahead of his time, with a broad grasp of the culture of his time.
The “fashion” at the Scottish Court at the time was alchemic and Rosicrucian studies. The nobles formed groups of study, and the story goes that “in the 17th century; rich landowners were interested in Renaissance architecture and the design of formal gardens for their vast estates… and [as] they could not obtain the status of a guild, [they] modeled their organization on the Masons, who had an organization, additional and independent of their guild: the lodge”[i]
A remarkable coincidence? A group interested in architecture and roses?
Since 1502, when James IV of Scotland signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace with Henry VII of England, and married Henry’s daughter Margaret, thereby uniting the Crowns. This marriage gave legitimacy to the new Tudor royal line.
The problem was that the royal Scots were Catholics and when “John Knox, in 1560, realised his goal of seeing Scotland become a Protestant nation, and the Scottish parliament revoked papal authority in Scotland. Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic and former queen of France was forced to abdicate in 1567.”[ii]
Progressively, the camps were defined, the Scots playing for the Catholic Church, while the English team played for the Church of England. The early Masonic lodges of Scotland, heirs of the Order of Gardeners mixed with an incipient Freemasonry took the Jacobite side, supporting the Stuarts in their fight for the Throne of the kingdom. The Irish lodges filed suit and ranked with the Scottish lodges.
In 1688-89, the Glorious Revolution occurred that overthrew King James VII of Scotland and II of England, a Catholic, precipitating England in a deep crisis, both political and religious.
“the Tories initially supported Catholic King James II, some of them, along with the Whigs, deposed him in the Revolution of 1688 and invited Dutch Prince William III to become monarch. Some English people, especially in the north, were Jacobites and continued to support James and his sons. After the parliaments of England and Scotland agreed,the two countries joined in political union, to create the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. To accommodate the union, institutions such as the law and national church of each remained separate. Under the newly formed Kingdom of Great Britain, output from the Royal Society and other English initiatives combined with the Scottish Enlightenment to create innovations in science and engineering. This paved the way for the establishment of the British Empire.”[iii]
The English establishment, concerned with the support to the Jacobites’ ambitions by the Scottish lodges, counter attacked with the organization of a Protestant brand of Freemasonry in 1717, in order to curb the nascent trend, and provide support to the House of Orange, the new rulers of the United Kingdom.
This was the historical background against which Freemasonry saw the light. At least one flavour of Freemasonry, the conservative one that aimed at controlling the behaviour and the discussions of the British Intelligentsia. It was called The Craft.
On the other side of the Channel, however, the French people was not so satisfied with their Royals, and in a framework of economic crisis provoked by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki in 1783 the country was precipitated into famine by the climate change that affected the French crops of wheat. This circumstance combined with a general dissatisfaction with the political behaviour of the nobility, and the Church led to the French Revolution in 1789, which lasted for ten years and produced the French Republic.
Freemasonry was introduced in France in 1726. Its evolution was somewhat erratic, as there were too many degrees invented randomly. In 1771, the French Rite was established, rescuing the spirit of the Constitution of 1723, and preserving the freedom of religion that had been compromised by the conflict between the Irish and Scottish loges on one side (Catholic), and the English lodges (Protestant).
In the turn of the century, after the Revolution, the French Freemasonry emerged renewed from the chaos, pregnant with Freedom and the ideals of the Republic, a libertarian and progressive institution, which became the second flavour of Freemasonry, a counterpoint to the instrument of control invented by the English Establishment.
A third flavour appeared also in France, a quasi-religion under the denomination of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, also very conservative and alienating, but it gained the hearts and minds of religious people around the World. As a matter of fact, this third flavour of Freemasonry is not exactly Freemasonry. It is a Chivalric Order that adopted the structure and symbolic of the Masonic Order. As it is a compromise between the Christian religion and Freemasonry, it became very popular and represents a large portion of the lodges worldwide.
These are the three main flavours, but there are others that are variations of the first three ones, some of them real deliriums of symbolic nature, where their members lost contact with the nature of Freemasonry and took off to the stratosphere, wildly inventing degrees and contents totally divorced from the original intentions.
History showed us that the French flavour of Freemasonry, for its libertarian and committed model was most influential in the fight for freedom in the Americas, while the other worked basically as instruments to conform the behaviour of their members, like a supplemental instrument of control, the same way that the Catholic Church operates among its members.